At this meeting, we started out with the topic “What should be done about poverty?” However, we ended up discussing the role of religion in politics and government, and the presence of irreligion in left-wing and right-wing politics. We tend to think that atheists are generally liberals (which may be statistically true in the United States). That conception is reinforced by the association of atheism with communism, the ideological extreme of liberalism. However, there are significant threads of irreligion on the political right and religion on the left.

Religion on the right is epitomized by the philosophy of Ayn Rand, a philosopher and novelist from the middle-20th century. Her philosophy of objectivism, which exalts individual self-interest as the greatest good, is a basis for what is called libertarianism. Libertarianism can be identified by calls for small government and free markets. Libertarian ideas are currently popular on the political right. Ayn Rand was also very anti-religion. We watched a video from Full Frontal with Samantha Bee which follows David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, as he sets up an atheism booth at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). You can watch the video here. Most of the CPAC attendees are hostile to the atheists, but several younger conservatives were more amenable to Silverman and his colleagues. Younger, libertarian-leaning conservatives are not as hostile to irreligion as their older conservative counter-parts.

In South and Central America, there is a leftist strain of thought called Liberation Theology, which is essentially a sort of Catholic Christian Marxism. It not very influential here in the US, but it is the major force of the political left in South and Central America. According to Liberation Theology, the ills of our society are the direct result of sin – specifically, greed. A society constructed around Christ’s teachings would essentially look like a Marxist utopia (minus the wiping out of religion).

We discussed the separation of church and state, but not in much depth.